Recently, we wrote entries about service animals and a variety of issues that property management and owners of service and/or companion animals should consider here and here (or you can scroll down). Further illustrating the timeliness of the service/companion animal issue, HUD just recently announced that it is charging two New York landlords with violations of the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) for allegedly refusing to allow a Vietnam-era veteran to have a therapeutic service dog in his apartment. The tenant alleged that he had been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, depression, and seizures, and that doctors had prescribed the dog to help reduce his symptoms. The property owners purportedly refused the tenant’s request because the apartment building had a “no-pets” policy. The property owners admit that the resident requested the dog, but allege that the tenant never made it clear why the dog was necessary and that he never provided any proof that the animal had been prescribed by a medical professional.
HUD has now charged the property owners with a violation of the FHA for denying the tenant’s reasonable accommodation request and for allegedly threatening to evict the tenant when they learned that the tenant had filed a housing discrimination complaint. Not surprisingly, the property owners deny that they threatened to evict the tenant. In addition to the claim regarding unlawful discrimination, HUD carefully investigates allegations of retaliation as the department wants to ensure that nobody feels intimidated into not exercising their rights under the FHA.
As we have indicated in the past, the FHA prohibits property owners and/or landlords from refusing to grant persons with disabilities a reasonable accommodation or reasonable modification, including making changes to rules and policies prohibiting a tenant from owning a pet when that pet is a prescribed service or companion animal. In addition, as noted above, the FHA prohibits a property owner from retaliating against a tenant who has filed a housing discrimination complaint.
In short, as this example makes clear -- always respond to reasonable accommodation or modification requests submitted by residents. In almost all cases, service and companion animals should be permitted. To be sure, while there may be times management cannot make the precise accommodation or modification sought, we can guarantee that failing to respond to or simply denying a request that should otherwise be granted can cause serious – and unnecessary – consequences.
Just A Thought.